I have to admit, when I planned a ten-day trip to Washington DC I had expectations about how much ground I would cover. With my career I don’t take vacations, I work while I travel. As long as there is an internet connection, I can get my deadlines complete and stay on top of my clients. Many people don’t have that luxury and it’s something I’m grateful for every time I book a flight. However, I also don’t get paid vacation or sick days. So if I were to take an actual vacation, I’d have to prepare for a pay-cut and that’s not something I’m inclined to do very often. With that said, my ten-day trip to Washington DC happened to be more like a long weekend. As fate would have it, deadlines took over and I spent 6 out of the 10 days parked in a coffee shop drinking far too many lattes and working longer days than you’d see me work from home.
While I didn’t get as much content as I would have preferred from DC, it was my second time visiting and I had a decent idea of what I wanted to get to most. Keeping this in mind, I’ve put together a list of six things you must do while visiting the capitol. Pocket a few of these ideas for your own trip or use them as a guide. If there’s one thing I learned during this visit, it’s that time is something we often take for granted and maximizing what we have is imperative. Maybe if I had planned better, I would have been able to see more but the important thing was that I enjoyed the time I had available to me. If you know what you want to see most when you travel, regardless of the destination, you are preparing yourself for a successful and memorable trip.
1 - Walk the National Mall: while this might sound like a more touristy thing to do, it’s worth it for nothing else than to cover a lot of ground. Many museums, monuments and memorials are located along the Mall and if any of them happen to be on your bucket list, you can conquer a few in one trip. TIP: do not underestimate the National Mall. It’s large and you might want to dedicate two afternoons or an entire day to cover the whole thing.
2 - Visit a Museum: there are an endless amount of museums to visit in Washington DC. There are the standard Smithsonians that everyone is familiar with but then there are also smaller museums more focused in their collections. Museums might not be something that you want to spend an entire trip on but it’s worth it to visit at least one. Scour the internet for which ones are available and pick one or two you are most interested in. You can also check out our museum guides: Art, Nature & Science, and History.
3 - Visit Monuments and Memorials: there are more than 160 memorials in DC. While “visiting memorials” might be important, know that it's almost impossible to cover them all, even in a week. Instead, like I’ve suggested in previous posts, pick a topic or an era that is important to you (ex. WWII, Presidents, Historical Moments) and research memorials in Washington DC pertaining to that theme. Keep it around 5-8 tops and make sure to visit those particular memorials while you visit. That way, you’re not overwhelmed with the enormous number available to visit and you’re not spending the entire trip walking from plaque to statue to plaque.
4 - Take a bike ride along the C&O Canal from Georgetown: Georgetown is an incredible neighborhood to visit on it’s own but if you have time, the weather cooperates and you don’t mind a little activity, the C&O Canal is a fun activity by yourself or with companions. Walk along the canal or take a bike ride, whichever you choose you’ll find yourself with a plethora of photo opportunities.
5 - Take on a secret identity at the International Spy Museum: this one is so cool. At the International Spy Museum, you can actually take on an “undercover mission” with a secret identity for an interactive experience. It gives you a more personal idea of what it’s like to lead the life of a spy and fun for kids and adults. I mean, don’t kid yourself. You know that you want to visit this spot to pretend to be a spy. Who wouldn’t?!
6 - Take in a lot of great art: DC may not be the obvious city to visit art museums but there are actually quite a few phenomenal collections. While it’s no Louvre, the National Gallery of Art is not only a beautiful building with a gorgeous garden, it also has a collection that includes around 4,000 paintings, 3,000 sculptures, 70,000 prints, 31,000 drawings,15,000 photos and more. Impressive, right? The National Portrait Gallery is also interesting to visit featuring portraits and portrait collections of celebrities, athletes, presidents, political figures and more. There are art museums dedicated to specific cultures as well. So depending on what your interests are, there is a lot of art to see and plenty of interests to conquer.
If these six things aren’t enough to get you started on planning a trip to DC, I don’t know what is. Besides everything the city has to offer, it’s gorgeous in both the spring and fall. I imagine it’s quite magical with a layer of snow covering everything as well but I haven't had the chance to visit in winter. The weather is a moderate climate (in my opinion) so there’s no bad time to visit if you think about it. If you liked this post, check out the others in our DC series before you go!